How to Increase Stomach Acid
So you’re having some stomach issues.
It could be acid reflux, GERD, IBS, cramps. Whatever it may be, you know something’s up.
Maybe you’ve read some articles about the symptoms you’re experiencing. You’ve come to the conclusion that the root of your problem is from low stomach acid.
You’re probably right! And that’s why you’re here.
I know you’re ready to dive in for the solution, however I encourage you to stay with me for just a moment.
I’d like to go over the symptoms of low stomach acid to make sure we’re on the same page. If so, then we’ll get right on to the good stuff.
Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid vs high stomach acid symptoms can be tricky. Many of them overlap and look the same.
Here are just a handful of the symptoms of low stomach acid:
The vast majority of people would say you have too much stomach acid if you reported these symptoms… They look virtually identical.
However, if your hunch still points to low stomach acid, you’re probably right.
The vast majority of people have way too little stomach acid, not too much.
Still this doesn’t solve the conundrum…
What are symptoms of low stomach acid that help me identify this problem?
Well, there are a few hints we can go off of here.
If you have/experience any of the following, it is highly likely you have too little stomach acid:
Diet full of refined and processed foods
H. Pylori infection
Over 65 years of age
Undigested food in stool & other digestive issues (1).
I’d like to quickly breakdown why these situations are indicative of low stomach acid before we get into how to increase stomach acid.
What these Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid Mean
Now, the potential causes I am about to elaborate on are in no way a complete list. However, these are some of the most common you are likely to experience.
Diet High in Refined and Processed Foods
Consuming a diet high in refined and processed foods is a nutrient deficient diet.
Your body burns through a massive amount of nutrients, and stomach acid is no exception. Zinc is the most prominent mineral needed to produce stomach acid.
If you’re consuming a highly refined Standard American Diet, there is virtually no chance you are getting adequate zinc and minerals from food.
Chronic stress pushes your body into survival mode.
Your nervous system can’t tell the difference between real and perceived stress. So when you’re in a chronically stressed state, your body thinks it may as well be running from a sabre toothed tiger all the time.
How does this affect digestion?
When you are stressed, blood flow to your digestive system is decreased. When your body is just trying to survive the next 5 minutes or 5 hours, the last thing it is concerned with is digestion.
Less blood flow leads to less fluid, which leads to less stomach acid.
H. Pylori Infection
If you’ve ever had an H. Pylori infection, you know how much of a pain it is.
Often this is the cause of ulcers, and in some cases, stomach cancer.
The reason this is linked to low stomach acid is quite simple. Stomach acid, obviously, is extremely acidic. This acidity creates an environment in which bacteria are unable to survive.
If there is inadequate stomach acid, there is an opportunity for bad bacteria to take root and weak havoc.
Increasing your stomach acid can help create an environment that is uninhabitable for H. Pylori.
Over the Age of 65
Like many things, it’s just a part of getting older.
Production of stomach acid decreases with age. It is especially crucial for folks over 65 years old to increase their stomach acid.
It’s a bit of a double whammy for older folks because you need more protein and other nutrients than other age groups. If you’re not able to digest properly via low stomach acid, you are getting even fewer nutrients than you are supposed to.
If this is the case for you, it’s definitely wise to read on and learn how to increase stomach acid.
This dovetails a bit with a diet high in refined and processed foods.
If you are deficient in zinc, you are missing an essential co-factor needed to produce stomach acid.
If the building blocks needed for stomach acid are not present, it never gets made in the first place. This is a key point to understand before learning how to increase stomach acid.
Undigested Food & Other Digestive Issues
Digestive issues of all kinds can be related to stomach acid in some way. I want to focus on undigested food.
Digestion technically starts with the brain, to the mouth, down the esophagus and to the stomach, then through the rest of the GI tract.
If you’re chewing properly and breaking down food in the mouth, well, you should not have undigested food in your stool.
However, if you have low stomach acid I wouldn’t be surprised to see that.
Stomach acid plays a crucial role in breaking down food into a liquid-like substance called “chyme” that flows down the rest of our GI tract.
If there is not enough stomach acid to break down food, you will end up with undigested food in your stool.
Now that we’ve got all that covered… Let’s learn how to increase stomach acid!
There’s more to it than a Swig of Vinegar
Some of the suggestions I am about to outline actually do not directly increase stomach acid.
I know, I lied. Kinda. Just wait a second!
These techniques are critical for digestion and will improve the stomach issues you are experiencing… Without even messing with stomach acid.
Plus, at the end I will give you a real clue about how to increase stomach acid so stick around for that!
Eat when You’re Calm
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but trust me…
Digestion begins with the brain. Your body has to be mentally prepared in order to properly receive food and digest it.
As mentioned before, your body is unable to tell the difference between a real and perceived stress. If you are rushing out the door with breakfast in hand, eating when trying to study for a big exam, or simply eating in a bad mood… You’re not digesting your food properly.
This stressed, sympathetic state drives blood and resources away from the digestive system. The body prioritizes dealing with stress over digesting food.
However if you eat in a calm, relaxed state, the body is prepared to digest. Your mouth begins to produce saliva. The brain is able to send cues to the rest of the digestive system to properly secrete hormones and enzymes.
That’s why the parasympathetic state, or calm state, is often referred to as “rest and digest” mode.
You’re probably wondering…
How can I possibly always be calm when I’m eating?
Well, “always” is definitely a bit of a stretch! Humans are fallible beings and we certainly can’t be expected to be perfect all the time.
A way I like to tackle this problem is to do a couple things when I sit down to eat.
First, I will take a few deep breaths. This helps calm me down and prep me for “rest and digest” mode. It also allows me to smell the food and help cue my brain in that I’m about to eat.
Secondly, I like to say either three things I’m grateful for or three good things that happened that day. If I’m with someone, I’ll say it aloud. If I’m alone I usually just think about them.
This gratitude and appreciation further pushes me into a calm state that allows me to digest better.
And yes, I actually do notice the difference.
My digestive system is sensitive and it doesn’t take much to throw it off balance. If I ate in a stressed state, I’ll be seeing the aftermath of that the next day. TMI, but I gotta get the point across!
Equally as important as eating in a calm state, we also have to chew our food.
Chew your Food
I know we touched on this a bit earlier.
However, it is so important I feel the need to reiterate.
Chew your food!
Ideally, you’ll chew every bite of food at least 20 times before swallowing. I know that’s a lot! It’s a practice that takes a while to get used to.
When you take the time to chew your food, you give your body more time to secrete digestive enzymes.
Salivary amylase and lingual lipase begin the process of breaking down fats and carbs as you chew. The longer you chew, the more food can be broken down by salivary enzymes.
This also primes the rest of the GI tract to prep for the digestive process and work properly.
If you happen to see undigested food in your stool, it is even more important to heed this advice.
Eat Clean & Get more Zinc
A diet high in processed foods is not only nutrient-deficient, it is inflammatory.
Consuming poor quality foods only add insult to injury when dealing with low stomach acid. Simply replacing these foods with a clean diet can improve symptoms. You don’t even have to know how to increase stomach acid.
A nutrient-deficient diet, of course, lacks zinc. And you know as I mentioned before, zinc is a necessary co-factor for the body to produce stomach acid.
Therefore, if we get more zinc in the diet we can bump up stomach acid. Meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and eggs are all excellent sources to bump up the zinc.
You can also supplement with zinc.
In addition to eating clean, fermented foods make a great addition to support digestion.
Add in Fermented Veggies
I’m specifically talking about lacto-fermented foods here. Sauerkraut, pickles, veggies, and even dairy falls into this category. However I’d like to stress on the veggies in this section.
We all know fermented foods are high in beneficial probiotics. These live probiotics are insanely powerful and are reason enough to include them in your diet as-is.
There’s another benefit to lacto-fermented foods, however.
This is due to the product of lacto-fermentation - lactic acid. This is also the reason why bacteria in lacto-fermented foods are so potent.
Lactic acid is just that, an acid. It’s what gives fermented foods their tang.
When you consume a little sauerkraut before or with dinner, you can actually be giving your stomach a little boost of acid.
Another nice benefit is the probiotics you’re getting.
The lactic acid bacteria from these fermented foods are well-adapted to living in an acidic environment. This means that these bacteria are much more equipped to survive the acidic conditions of your stomach than most supplements.
Therefore, lacto-fermented foods serve an important dual purpose. They help boost stomach acid, and they help inoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria.
Talk about a bang for your buck!
I personally have a bit of sauerkraut right before dinner every night and I do believe it helps prime my digestive system.
There’s one more technique you can try to give your stomach some assistance.
Take some ACV with Dinner
Since you’ve been wondering how to increase stomach acid this whole time, this is the most straightforward way to do it.
You can take anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in water. Taken right before dinner, this will help bring the pH of your stomach down and digest whatever you’re about to eat.
Pretty simple, right?
With all that said, you’re probably wondering…
How do I know if I’m Getting Enough Stomach Acid?
So we’ve figured out whether we have low stomach acid or not… We’ve talked about ways to naturally boost stomach acid/support digestion… Now there’s another mystery.
Well let me demystify it for you!
You can do what is called an HCl challenge. This is something we can offer to all of our nutrition clients.
Essentially, we give you a supplement containing HCl, the main form of acid found in your stomach.
You take these capsules/tablets with your meals.
You incrementally increase the dose until you feel a warming in your stomach. At this point, you have had too much HCl and it is time to dose down.
This is a great technique that will give us a measure of exactly how to increase stomach acid to the proper levels.
We see this as a temporary fix, however.
Through working with us on nutrition and lifestyle changes, the intention is to get you completely off of HCl supplementation.
We believe proper nutrition is the key to bringing the body back into balance.
If what you’ve read here resonated with you and you’d like some assistance…
Schedule a Free Consult
We are always happy to meet with new clients!
Holistic nutrition is our passion, after all.
You can schedule a free 15 minute discovery call with us and see if we are a good match for one another.
From there, we can get you set up in our system and schedule your initial appointment. We go deep into your health history to address root causes of the health concerns you want to remediate. We create meal plans and supplement plans tailored to your needs. To support you through the process, we make ourselves accessible through phone and email. We will do everything in our power to help you get better.
But I’m getting ahead of myself!
To schedule your free 15 minute discovery call, you can book online or via phone. You can access our online scheduling platform here, and you can give us a call at the office at (603) 526-6687.
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Whether near or far, we are happy to help you with your nutrition goals.
In health and healing,
Gabrielle and Kristen